Saturday, February 18, 2012

RVI Unveils Preliminary Master Plan for Jacob’s Well Natural Area

Stakeholders of the Jacob’s Well Natural Area and Hays County staff met Feb. 15 at Camp Jacob to review RVI’s preliminary master plan (the most recent phase in site planning for the historic spring). Presentations from the landscape architectural consultants from RVI gave  stakeholders an overview of the “Preliminary Plan” that incorporated community input from the January open house and addressed key questions and concerns including: 
  • How to best preserve and restore the site to  demonstrate land and water stewardship
  • Best way to provide safe public access and ensure protection of the sensitive natural landscape
  • Whether or not to permit overnight camping 
  • Restrictions on bicycles & dogs in the preserve
  • How to manage fencing, signage and boundary identification
  • Managing access while making the property as open as possible
  • Methods to protect and rehabilitate the wetlands and the riparian area along the creek
  • How to restore the area around the spring and manage access to Jacob's Well
  • Entry points, impervious cover restrictions, parking capacity & location
The vision for the JWNA master plan are to preserve the site as a place for the community to connect with nature and inspire environmental stewardship. The historic spring provides a perfect place to  educate area youth and demonstrate land and water conservation practices.

The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association , with the help of Hays County, has removed nearly four acres of impervious cover from the site.  RVI landscape and architectural planners, Chris Lalitch and Barbara Austin, are assessing the need to remove existing impervious cover before any new structures or parking areas are added.  Site restrictions on  impervious cover will limit what is built in the future. All structures will incorporate rainwater harvesting and energy efficient design; every effort is being made to use natural pervious materials for nature trails and parking areas to allow water to seep back into the aquifer.

Lalitch and Austin summarized the open house presentation and introduced some new sketches of how buildings might be designed with approximations of where the structures may be located. They also confirmed that there will be two, possibly three, entry points for the preserve.  The preliminary plans allow for a total of 32 parking spaces and three school buses.

There are not plans to fence around the entire property. Lalitch said that currently there are plans to fence approximately 3,000 feet of the property around the riparian area designated as zone 9 (the southernmost section in the flood zone) and there will be some restricted use. Boundary markers made out of cedar, recycled materials, stone and native plantings may be used along Mt. Sharp Road.

JWNA consists of nine distinct planning “zones” – from the mostly wild, upland area (about 35 acres) in zone one all the way down to Jacob’s Well and the riparian area around Cypress Creek.  Each one of these zones is being planned for restoration according to its unique characteristics. Zone one is expected to be left largely undisturbed with some trails, a possible bird tower and a wildlife viewing areas to accommodate bird watchers, wildlife researchers and visitors walking from local neighborhoods. 

The main entrance will be off of Mt. Sharp Road and will lead to a bluff in Zone 2 with wide unobstructed views and an overlook. RVI envisions a partially enclosed “Stewardship Center” here, nestled into the hillside. It will be energy efficient and facing southwest for natural ventilation in the summer. The indoor and outdoor environments in this structure will be knitted together and the estimated size of the structure is 3,400 square feet which includes a covered terrace.  There will also be two adjacent indoor restrooms, a storage area, office space, kitchen & catering facilities and possible retail space.

The “Stewardship Center” will act as the central hub for visitors to the natural area and serve as a center for community education and watershed research.  The structure will be surrounded by educational kiosks with natural outdoor seating, beehives, bat houses and “play trails,” an innovative concept that encourages kids to explore along a trail. The “Playscapes” themselves will be nature-oriented with organic rather than man made materials.

Winton Porterfield, of Wimberley Springs Partners, expressed his desire for exhibits to illustrate the  unique historical and cultural history of the area and think creatively about how to present the water  education exhibits. David Baker, executive director for the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, also suggested an archeological assessment of the Native American artifacts on the property in order to incorporate additional information of historical significance; the other stakeholders present agreed with the suggestions made.

RVI also envisions a large, covered picnic and educational area lower in the property in the former RV park area.  This area, north of the existing educational center building at Camp Jacob (which remains in the plan),  is a flat, prairie-like habitat that is accessible by trail from the north and south entrances.  All structures will use rainwater collection systems and geothermal and solar energy with the goal of “net zero” energy and resource use. The runoff from the parking areas will be captured in filter gardens for conservation and educational purposes.

Hays County legal counsel Mark Kennedy said the property will be handicap accessible, according to ADA standards.  Currently, the county is leaning towards a sun-up to sun-down policy for the preserve.  The southern entrance at Camp Jacob will remain open during the day to accommodate local residents and will have a few parking spaces and bike racks. Biking to the preserve is encouraged; in order to preserve the trails and wildlife, biking will not be permitted within the natural area. Mayor of Woodcreek, Eric Eskeland, mentioned the need for more planning to connect trails for the residents from Woodcreek who enjoy walking to the well. Stating a vision for one day connecting the Winters Parkway Trail from Blue Hole to Jacob's Well.

Hays County has established a web site to track the progress of the Jacob's Well Natural Area master plan.

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